Tuesday, May 30, 2017

On the Move: Thinking of God



I've become a member of the Thinking of God organisation, a confessionally Reformed think-tank and clearing house for theology in Australia. It's like the Gospel Coalition Australia but more self-consciously denominational. I'll leave this blog here as a record of my thinking out loud over the last decade, but from now on I'll be writing articles and book reviews under the Thinking of God banner

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Appeal to experts and experience


Rhetoric is a powerful tool. Last year I wrote about "staying beneath the parapet." That's the technique of not giving away what you think, of saying as little as possible.  Another rhetorical trick is appealing to experts (argumentum ad verecundiam) or experience (a version of ad ignorantiam). And like every rhetorical technique it has both strengths and weaknesses and can be used for both good and evil.

Generally, the way it works is to have a reputable source, 'an expert' supporting your argument. For example, you see this in parenting forums or debates about Climate Change or Islam. The weakness with an appeal to experts is that your opponent may have more or better experts to appeal to and so it becomes an escalating arms race of who has the best expert. An appeal to 'experience' works in a similar way. You either point to a friend's experience that supports your argument or just as powerfully subtly highlight your opponent's lack of experience. The classic example of this is during a debate about abortion, where male voices are often excluded because they lack the experience of "being a woman." The argument can be defused, ironically, with an appeal to a favourable expert who has the alleged experience but ultimately questioning the right for anyone to make judgments and observing the consistency of logic is more powerful.

Sometimes it's important to provide experts that support your view. This is because good ideas have a long provenance, you want people to know that your idea has a reliable pedigree. An appeal to experience can also be helpful when someone is unnecessarily assertive or in genuine need of assistance. But it's also important to be self-aware that you're using those tools and rely on the truthfulness and goodness of the ideas themselves to ultimately win over your opponents.

[Picture from unsplash.com of a random lab, where no doubt, experts are at work, but I can't say with certainty.] 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Reading the Old Testament


Tackling the difference between the Old and News Testaments can be tricky. For example, Jonathan Edwards says: “There is perhaps no part of divinity attended with so much intricacy, and wherein orthodox divines do so much differ as stating the precise agreement and difference between the two dispensations of Moses and Christ.” (Inquiry Concerning Qualifications for Communion) In other words, everyone has their own opinion about the best way to approach the Old Testament. Here is my outline.

The key question to ask any Old Testament passage is this: how are the ideas in this section continuous or discontinuous with the New Testament?

  • This is the question setup by Jeremiah and then echoed by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.
  • “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people ofIsrael and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors.” (Jeremiah 31:31-32)
  • “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. ” (Matthew 5:17-18)


Discontinuity


Information
  • We have more information than the Old Testament authors and characters themselves. For example, we can see this in the way New Testament authors sometimes draw extra meaning from their Old Testament quotations. 
Access
  • We now have direct access to God. Prior to the ministry of Jesus, access was mediated through the Mosaic Law. But now gentiles are incorporated into the body of God's people. Jesus has fulfilled the need for mediated access. 
Incarnation
  • Prior to the Incarnation, God's transcendence was our dominant experience of him, although he interacted frequently with the Jewish people, he was 'at a distance' so to speak. Now he has experienced and expressed himself in human nature. 


Continuity


Revelation
  • God's nature is self-revelatory, this a theme in both Testaments. This is partly why the Mosaic Law is still useful today. Because it reveals God's holiness and our own sinfulness. Additionally, the structure of Scripture forms one big pattern, a pattern of continual clues and foreshadowing of the future. Revelation is also linked to application. God's revelation is not static, but requires a response, then and now.
Grace
  • Both Testaments reveal a God who is powerful enough to intervene in history to organise our rescue and kind enough to be willing to save us from sin. Grace is also a gift and this is revealed both in the Old Testament sacrificial system and in Jesus' ministry. 
Direction
  • The trajectory of redemptive history is an arc that stretches across both Testaments. We see this both in the Biblical plot line but also in the pattern of promises and fulfilment across both testaments. Additionally, the direction of God's activity, his judgement of sin and his promise of deliverance are common to both the Old and New Testaments. Lastly and importantly, faith is directional, it's an active conviction, both in the promise of a saviour and in the saviour himself. 

[Luca Signorelli (and Bartolomeo della Gatta), 'Testament and Death of Moses' 1482, oil on panel, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, Rome.]